The Character of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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The Character of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman, the main character in Death of a Salesman is a complex tragic character. He is a man struggling to hold onto the little dignity he has left in a changing society. While society may have caused some of his misfortune, Willy must be held responsible for his poor judgment, disloyalty and foolish pride.

Willy Loman is a firm believer in the "American Dream:" the notion that any man can rise from humble beginnings to greatness. His particular slant on this ideal is that a man succeeds by selling his charisma, that to be well liked is the most important asset a man can have. He made a living at this for 30 years, but as he enters the reclining years of
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Biff, after catching his father with the woman begins to question these values. He realizes that for him, at least, these values are not applicable, and he is not too concerned if he doesn't come out on top. He just wants to be able to say he knows who he is. The aptly named Happy continues to believe in these ideals even after his father's death and decides that the Loman name will succeed.

In 1949, shortly after the play's premiere, Miller wrote a controversial essay about how Death of a Salesman was a true tragedy, only with common people rather than kings. Loman's lack of self-awareness is not unlike King Lear's, it could be argued - both men evoke the tragic by dying in the effort to secure, in Miller's words, "a sense of personal dignity."

As the play progresses, one begins to feel sorry for Willy and his predicament, but also angry and frustrated with the character for his foolish pride. It is this trait that prevents him from accepting a steady job with Charlie, something that could have saved his life. However, it is this false pride has been sparking the family flame for years, the notion that the Loman name was well known and well-liked. The family lie even amongst themselves about their position as is revealed during the climax of the play:

BIFF "...We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!"

HAPPY "We always told the truth!"

BIFF (turning on him) "You big blow, are you the assistant
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